I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days. Fred Branfman, a person who I consider a true American hero (and I do not use the term hero often—sadly it has become watered down from overuse—and misuse), passed away last week. And, in addition to the sadness I felt, I felt a pang of guilt. Fred and I had been corresponding ever since I got involved in Laos and discovered the horror—and the millions of still-deadly bombs littering the landscape—caused by America’s “Secret War” there. I think Fred was the first American civilian that discovered the brutal campaign we were waging—and I think he carried that unimaginable weight on his shoulders his whole life. This article When Chomsky Wept (and this obituary, will give you some insight into Fred).
That is why I wanted to have Fred as an endorser for my fundraising project The Plain Of Jars Project (POJP) for the Lone Buffalo Foundation. After reading the book of stories by the terrorized villagers Fred interviewed, Voices from the Plain of Jars: Life under an Air War, I knew this man could give me insight that I could not hope to gather on my own.
Now, Fred was not a person to send you an email comprised of one sentence—he wanted to know everything about what you were doing, why you were doing it, and how it was going. I have an email in my inbox from Fred and it is labeled “draft” as I had not finished it, supposedly to do more important things. Here is what Fred asked:
- Are you still in the PDJ? (Plaine de Jarres; from the French)
- How much did you make from you fundraiser?
I am very interested, if you have time, to learn more about what life is like on the PdJ, the life of the people, the degree to which the government cares about the people, specifics on the LBF (Lone Buffalo Foundation), etc. And YOU—how are you doing?
The man never stopped caring about the people of the Plain of Jars, of the people of Laos.
Now the guilt: One day I was at Site 1 of the Plain Of Jars and I saw an amazing view with the sun breaking through the clouds over the jar site below. I took one look and knew that this was an image I was taking for Fred. I sent him the image and he loved it.
Later, I named the image Tribute To FB in his honor. It was the most requested image from the gallery of reward images for the project. I wanted to tell Fred that. I wanted to tell him that an image I loved, he loved, and that I shot specifically for him was now named after him and was the most popular of all my POJP photos.
And I didn’t. I didn’t because other things got in the way—things in hindsight that I can’t even remember; things that weren’t important at all. I can’t tell him, show him, because now it is too late. And I’m sad that I couldn’t pay back, in the tiniest way possible, the inspiration I got from Fred.
Thank you Fred. Here is your photo, RIP: